Monday, August 20, 2007
The End Of An Era
One point I haven't seen made yet regarding opinion on the Iraq War is that despite GOP attempts to turn it into a partisan wedge issue, America is simply not experiencing the same kind of generational and cultural divisiveness that accompanied the Vietnam War. Now, part of this has to do with the fact that, domestically speaking, the historical context today is nowhere near as tumultuous as it was forty years ago. And what tumult there is has more to do with popular culture adapting to technological advances than with violent political/cultural clashes.
To be sure, America remains divided politically. But simply put, you can no longer tell what side of the debate someone's likely to come down on based on the length of their hair, the color of their skin, the music they listen to, or the syle of clothing they wear. What's more, opposition to the war is not driven by a vibrant pacifist movement, or even a pacifist impulse. War has been rehabilitated as an arm of foreign policy, and has since been waged and endorsed by both Democratic and Republican administrations alike.
There's been no widespread demonization of the military this time around, either. To the contrary, without having seen any polling on the question, I'd be willing to wager that most people who feel like we've failed in Iraq blame the civilian leaders and the brass, not the soldiers. In other words, the debate on the Iraq War signals not a return to the post-Vietnam era, but the end of it.
So far, Democrats haven't taken as much advantage of this as they could have, not in order to win the debate, which for all intents and purposes is over. (The Iraq War will be wound down over the course of the next 18-24 months, depending on how far in that direction President Bush is willing to move before leaving office.) But in order to shape public opinion on how we came to lose Iraq. Instead of discussing their plans for leaving, they need to start framing the withdrawal as a tactical retreat to better contain the mess we've made by going in in the first place.
And above all, they need to point out that there are no hippies to blame this time around. Anyone claiming that opposition to the war caused its failure is blaming a clear majority of ordinary Americans for our defeat.